June 30, 2010

Playing for Time: Final Fantasy XIII

About 30 hours into the game now, and it's still a really mixed bag. I like (some of) the characters, the battle system is surprisingly fun and I actually do want to know what happens next in the story. On the other hand, the game struggles with pacing and the narrative could be a bit more captivating. I'm also somewhat put off by the equipment system with the evolving weapons and such. (That's actually one of my pet peeves: I dislike RPG systems where weapons evolve or you need to have different items to create weapons.) Not sure if things are going uphill or downhill, but I'm determined to see where this is going.

Lightning is, for once, a very nice female video game character. She isn't a "babe" to be drooled over (though I'd prefer if she'd been given, you know, pants or something) and her gender isn't a point in any way. Her gender is not a thing, if you will. She's just the sort-of protagonist of the game, who matter-of-factly pushes onwards in life as well as in battles. Also, Fang and even Vanille are interesting characters! This must be the first Final Fantasy game where I don't have to cringe at the typical men-saving-the-women scenarios, and where all the primary female characters feel more than just something planned to appeal to a crowd of awkward males. And for that I'm ready to cut FFXIII a lot of slack.

(If you're wondering what Playing for Time is, see this explanatory post.)

June 25, 2010

First look at El Shaddai

Wow. El Shaddai really managed to impress me! The E3 trailer above doesn't shed much light onto the gameplay, which is a shame, but it does show an awful lot of artsy stuff. I don't mind the lack of concrete gameplay-footage since I'm looking forward to El Shaddai almost solely because of its aesthetics. The trailer showed boldy weird colors, a protagonist (Enoch) I didn't immediately write off as insipid, sharp cell-shaded graphics and positively odd overall design, all of which I highly root for! And in the midst of it all, contrasting with the light and bright world, Lucifer in his plain dark attire! It's about time a high profile game about pantheon mayhem features characters that don't look like a grumpy mountains of meat or lascivious sex bombs (both of which are ok in their own right, just not what I primarily go for). Hooray for Enoch and Lucifer!

The game is directed by Sawaki Takeyasu, the art director of the former Clover Studios. I have nothing but respect towards his character designs and overall eye for visual elements. He is known mostly for the artwork he did for the original Devil May Cry and Okami, both of which are games that I was drawn to because of how they looked. I'm pro-DMC primarily because of the character designs, and the thing I most loved about Okami was how the art direction brought all the game's various aspects so neatly together.

I'm almost certain Takeyasu and his team will pull off a very neat-looking game, and if the gameplay is decent, El Shaddai might indeed be one of the gaming highlights of my year. (What year? I have no idea.)

On a related note, Edge's preview of El Shaddai in issue 216 really nailed the premise for the game's development:
The Japanese game industry has always had a healthy approach to blasphemy. Where western developers are content for players to tear their way through an exclusively heathen pantheon, JRPGs have been killing God since the '90s and when EA was sending Dante down to Hell to hand out some divine retribution, Bayonetta was bending angels over a guillotine.

June 23, 2010

Playing for Time: Bangai-O Spirits

Bangai-O Spirits
Nintendo DS, 2008

I've only barely scratched the surface of this one. But oh, I am intrigued! I've played my share of games that try to convey the feeling of piloting a giant robot. And out of all those games, Bangai-O Spirits by Treasure is by far the most fun, and it's the one that gets the closest to the feeling of really, truly being in control of a sleek, bipedal, missile-spewing battle robot. It sounds weird saying that, but it's honestly the most descriptive thing I can come up with.

Like, you know how when watching anime, you see the characters going all over the screen, robots swirling and doing impossible aerial manoeuvres, missiles and pew-pew-pew lasers all over the place, explosions lighting up the screen in rapid succession, mega-destructive weapons going off left and right... You know... Hyper-kinetic action that has little or no relation to the laws of physics, common sense or modest aesthetics. It's really difficult to capture that feeling in video games even though they seem to be full of situations like that.

But Bangai-O Spirits manages to do exactly that. It's every good mecha anime action scene compressed to levels that last only seconds. And it's as much a puzzle game as it is an action game. What's not to love?

Can't make heads or tails of the picture? Think about this: you can unleash a powerful special attack more or less any time you wish. The more enemy missiles/bullets are in your vicinity, the more missiles your special attack has. The closer to you the enemy missiles/bullets are, the bigger your missiles become when launched. Every object has a 1 pixel wide tail showing it's general path. Madness ensues.

Oh, and if you build a level with the level editor, instead of sending it to your friends via wi-fi, the DS converts the level into a sound file that you can play near another DS's microphone, transferring the data between the two devices as sound. Like old Commodore 64 cassettes. Awesome! And not least because it's a feature clearly implemented as a novelty. The wi-fi transfer would have been faster and likely easier to code.

The game is going dirt-cheap in Amazon, and I heartily recommend you play it. For further persuasion, see Tiny Cartridge's gem of a post.

June 21, 2010

Elfen Lied - I am disappoint

No two ways about it: it's guro meets haremy moe*. The frequency of dismemberment and disembowelment are a pretty good indicator of the former and the show's referral to Sister Princess, the growing number of girls moving in with the male protagonist, and everyone having this weirdly protective and infatuated attitude towards the protagonist pretty much make a no-brainer of the latter. Unfortunately I'm not very charmed by either genre and the combination is, uh, tricky to do without failing horribly. Elfen Lied started out strong, and I thought it was actually going to work. Shouldn't have been surprised it didn't.

The two opposite genres could work, assuming that:
1) The guro was good, which it mostly wasn't.
2) The moe worked as a good unicorn chaser for the heavy physical and psychological violence, which it didn't.

Splattering gore and body parts all over the place is shocking for only so long, and after that you don't pay much attention to it. The light moe segments could've been good counterweights for the grim violence, but instead they ended up only underlining the illogical way everything worked in the series and made the already irrational characters seem even more random. The result is a series that has two elements that take up momentum from each other instead of adding to it.

About the characters: I didn't find a single interesting character from the whole show. I liked none of them, connected emotionally with none of them and was entertained by none of them. Elfen Lied is one of those very few series in which I've felt no sympathy or interest towards any of the characters.